Writing with a pen & paper verses typing on a computer may seem like a trivial issue, but it’s an act that has important consequences on the quality and creativity of one’s writing, as well as on society as a whole. While I write regularly using both pen and paper and a computer, when writing with a pen, I feel like I can go deeper into my thought process and access ideas more freely and easily. The flow of ideas simply isn’t as easily accessed while typing. Like the electric connection that exists between two lovers, there’s a stimulated synchronisity between the mind, hand and piece of paper that seems stronger and different writing longhand than on a computer.
That a writer actually holds an object with the hand (in this case, a pen) while writing longhand seems important. The hand is the gateway that synchronizes the electric connection between the mind and body, allowing thoughts to flow more freely and easily onto paper. Perhaps this is why, when I’m working on something important or creative or if I’m struggling with an idea or project while typing, I find myself almost instinctively reaching for a pen. Doing so allows me to reach or rekindle a deeper flow.
Writer Lee Rourke touches on this synchronicity that occurs while writing long hand in a 2011 article in The Guardian about “Why Creative Writing is Better With a Pen.” He writes:
“For me, writing longhand is an utterly personal task where the outer world is closed off, just my thoughts and the movement of my hand across the page to keep me company. The whole process keeps me in touch with the craft of writing. It’s a deep-felt, uninterrupted connection between thought and language which technology seems to short circuit once I begin to use it.”
Cambridge based writer Lauren Slater wrote about her experience taking meds for Depression in Prozac Diary, which I think also serves as an ideal metaphor for this short-circuiting that can happen while typing verses writing longhand. She writes: “I was a different person now, both more and less like me, fulfilling one possibility while swerving from another. There is loss in that swerving”(1994:49).
You write like a different person now, both more and less like you, fulfilling one possibility while swerving from another. There is loss in that swerving.
Another common reason for preferring long hand is that that the internet can be distracting. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to be checking your twitter, email or facebook while meditating (for the sheer purpose that it would distract you from your meditation practice), these things can also disrupt one’s writing process. Others prefer writing longhand because they view ink on paper as allowing for less room for initial editing. On a computer, the writer has the ability to edit every word almost immediately-erasing any trace of a word or phrases’ existence in a split second. Some feel that this can have the effect of “photoshopping” one’s writing process. In contrast, writing on paper- without the ability to second-guess one’s thoughts and words through immediate editing, can leave writing more raw or “real.”
While technology may “short-circuit” the writing process in various ways that can be limiting, typing on a computer can also enable the writing process. Computers and technology are electric connections themselves- and our minds and bodies aren’t exactly separate from them. In the same way that an electric connection exists between the mind, hand, and the object you are writing with, so too does an electric connection exist between your mind, hand and computer. Computers can transform the electric connection between your mind and hand and allow new connections to take place- fulfilling new possibilities, while swerving from others. Might the act of writing in itself, being the electric connection that it is, also be defined as much of a technology as it is an art?
I also find typing on a computer to be extremely helpful in terms of organizing my thoughts and ideas. This is very important to my personal writing process, since I tend to have an all-over the place thought process when I write, which can become chaotic if I don’t organize my ideas properly. I find that when I start organizing ideas on a computer, I can see and place ideas side by side in new and different ways than on paper, and this allows me to make new connections and associations between ideas. Computers help me organize my thoughts into coherent ideas in ways that paper simply can’t compete with.
Since I want to capitalize on the benefits of both computers and writing longhand, I usually opt to use both. Throughout writing a piece, there is a dance between writing with a pen and creating the entire piece on the computer. I start most writing projects by making a big, messy yet coherent list of ideas on paper that consists of any major themes I’m touching on combined with any details or creative lines or details I know I want to include. I then select ideas from that list, which are translated into a loosely organized outline on a computer. The piece then emerges as much on the pad as it does on the computer as new connections are made and new ideas emerge. If and when I want to go deeper into an idea, I opt to first write it out longhand and then develop it on the computer, dancing back and forth between the computer and the pad and pen- even if it’s just one sentence. At the end of this process, everything is of course transferred onto the computer.
The issue of writing longhand verses typing on a computer is not just an individual or artistic choice, but a broader sociological issue that raises important questions regarding if and how socieities want to modernize and take advantage of the benefits of new technologies without sacrificing traditional methods that came before us. What parts of ourselves and cultures do we wish to hold on to and what do we want to shed in order to progress, and live more freely, happily and creative? The issue of writing longhand verses typing on a computer gets at and works through the heart of these questions. In using both long hand and a computer (and being selective about how, why and when I’m using each method), I feel like I can get the benefits of both traditional and modern writing means of writing.